Eleven Kosovo special police indicted for mistreating Serbs

19/12/2013

The move is aimed at holding Kosovo's police accountable for their actions.

By Linda Karadaku and Bojana Milovanovic for Southeast European Times in Pristina and Belgrade -- 19/12/13

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Members of the Kosovo police special unit ROSU stand at attention. [AFP]

An international prosecutor filed charges against 11 members of Kosovo's special police unit ROSU for mistreating Serbs while on duty nearly a year ago, following a joint EULEX and Kosovo police inspectorate investigation.

"The charges relate to alleged violence committed by the 11 Kosovo police officers against 10 Kosovo Serb detainees, now injured parties, on January 8th," EULEX said in a statement.

Kosovo police arrested the 10 Serbs the day before, during celebrations of Orthodox Christmas, and detained them overnight at the Pristina detention centre. Police released them shortly after they had a hearing at the minor offences court in Pristina.

EULEX said the violence occurred while the police escorted the arrested Serbs from the detention centre to the minor offences court as well as at the court itself.

Kosovo police said at the time it detained the Serbs for security reasons and further verification. Kosovo media reported the 10 were in charge of escorting Aleksandar Vulin, head of Serbia's Kosovo office, during his visit to Gracanica, one of the holiest sites for Serbian Orthodox Christians.

Ramadan Ilazi, executive director of the Kosovo Peace Institute in Pristina, said the arrests should not reflect poorly on the police department's overall commitment to the safety of Kosovo Serbs.

"[But] what happened in Gracanica does need to go through the justice process and, if wrongdoings occurred, then proper disciplinary actions should be taken," Ilazi told SETimes.

Mitrovica Mayor Krstimir Pantic said the arrests, as well as pressure on Pristina by the Serbian government and the international community, show it is important to ensure the Kosovo Serbs' safety.

"The Serbs do not trust the Kosovo judiciary and police and rightfully so, that is the key problem. Pristina should prove that it cares about the rights of the Serbs not only through words, but actions too," Pantic told SETimes.

Pantic also said gaining the trust of Kosovo Serbs in the local police and judiciary is central to implementing the Brussels Agreement as well as reaching a final Belgrade-Pristina agreement.

The indictment came shortly before 16 former members of Serbia's interior ministry operating in Kosovo began to integrate in the Kosovo police -- a move undertaken to increase the security for the Kosovo Serbs.

Belul Beqaj, a political commentator and university professor at the Universum College in Pristina, said the message sent by EULEX is questionable -- that it was well-intentioned, but the consequences are unfortunate.

"After all, the person for which they are being investigated [Aleksandar Vulin] should not have had access to Kosovo because he is exercising Serbia's state policy inside the state of Kosovo," Beqaj told SETimes.

Other experts argued the police action is an issue concerning rule of law issues and should not have political implications.

"The wider implication is that it should strengthen trust in rule of law and in Kosovo's institutions for all communities," said Ardian Arifaj, a political commentator for the Kosovo daily JNK.

Ilazi said both the Kosovo and Serbia governments must act maturely and not allow such cases interrupt or affect the on-going process of normalising relations.

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"The motive of the incident was not ethnic-related but rather had to do with asserting authority. The Kosovo police have been doing a good job to ensure the safety and security for all citizens without prejudice to their ethnicity," Ilazi said.

The Kosovo interior ministry issued a statement saying responsibility for any potential wrongdoing is individual.

"It cannot be attributed in any way to the entire group that was on duty," the ministry said.

Do you believe the authorities and EULEX are doing enough to ensure the safety of Serbs and other minorities in Kosovo? If not what else can be done?

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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